May 28, 2019
My reign as President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate for the 86th Legislative Session has come to an end with the Senate adjourning “sine die” (that’s fancy talk for “adjourned with no set date to come back, thank goodness”). Fortunately, it was a peaceful transition devoid of dragons. And Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick can now rest easy because a Democrat is no longer next in the line of succession for the Governor of Texas.
In accordance with a really great Texas tradition, I enjoyed serving as Governor for a Day back in April and took that special opportunity to raise some money for Huston-Tillotson University and Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin as well as the three wonderful, local non-profits that hosted a very rainy day of service: Community First! Village, Austin Habitat for Humanity, and Austin Pets Alive!
Getting it done
This legislative session was my 7th in the Texas Senate. It was a lot less ugly than the previous session and we managed to get a lot done.
This was my first session to be on the Senate Education Committee. At the beginning of the session, I asked to be appointed to this committee because I wanted to be in the middle of the school finance discussion. I knew we had an incredible opportunity because there was the political will as well the resources to do something big for the schoolchildren of Texas.
I was especially pleased to serve on the conference committee that negotiated HB 3, the big school finance bill. It was touch and go for a bit but the final product has a lot of good, including full-day pre-k, a focus on directing resources to economically disadvantaged students and a reduction in recapture.
The Texas Legislature on Sunday approved funding to continue the investment in the redesign of the Austin State Hospital and the brain health continuum of care. Senate Bill 500, the supplemental budget bill, provides $165 million for this biennium to construct the first phase of the replacement hospital. The target date for occupancy and operation is 2023.
The reconstruction of the Austin State Hospital is about much more than a structure. With this investment, we’re building upon the extraordinary work of the Dell Medical School to design a brain health system of care that provides access to the right care at the right time and in the right place. This is a big win in our efforts to transform the ASH Brain Health System and demonstrates the Legislature’s commitment to improving access to quality mental health care for all Texans.
The Texas Legislature took a strong stand against sexual assault this session. This was a priority topic for me heading into the session, and four significant bills that I filed or sponsored have made it to the Governor’s desk:
Each of these bills will make a big impact and wouldn’t have been possible without the survivors and their advocates who bravely spoke up in their defense. I’m also very grateful to Rep. Donna Howard, who partnered with me on two of the bills.
Other members had great successes too, including Rep. Neave and Sen. Nelson on the Lavinia Masters Act (HB 8), and Rep. Moody and Sen. Perry with the anti-groping bill. Finally, our budget shows our commitment to this issue by dramatically increasing the funding to test rape kits, restoring civil legal services funding for survivors, and directing the State Auditor to audit the criminal justice system’s response to reported sexual assaults.
For over two years, I’ve worked to restore the Public Information Act (PIA) after two troubling court cases in 2015. That work finally paid off with the passage of SB 943 and SB 944. SB 943 brings much-needed sunshine to publicly-funded state and local contracts so the public can see what they’re buying and if they get what’s promised. SB 944 contains a myriad of improvements designed to make the PIA more efficient and accessible. I’m grateful to the Sunshine Coalition and my partner Rep. Capriglione who have championed these issues right alongside me.
Finally, Chairman Phelan and I also passed SB 1640, which ensures a recent court decision doesn’t gut the Open Meetings Act by allowing government bodies to make decisions in a series of small, secret meetings. Together, these three bills enable the public to meaningfully engage with their government.
I love your being your Senator. This was very successful session and I’m pretty proud of it. Thanks for the opportunity to serve.